A skeleton's discovered in the desert just outside the Tex-Mex bordertown of Frontera, and sheriff Sam Deeds (Cooper) soon concludes that the dead man - 'bribes 'n' bullets' lawman Charlie Wade (Kristofferson), reputedly run out of town 40 years ago by Sam's late, legendary father Buddy (McConaughey) - was murdered. But who killed him, and why? It may, of course, be connected with the racial tensions that have always divided Frontera's population. After all, his own teenage romance with Pilar Cruz (Peña), now a teacher with a troubled son of her own, was frowned on by their parents; and even now the blacks are still marginalised: if they're not unemployed, most are stuck out at the army base headed by Delmore Payne (Morton), a by-the-book colonel whose faith in rugged individualism has alienated him from both his father and his son. Writer/director Sayles' witty, vividly demotic dialogue knocks even Tarantino for six, the characterisations are uniformly colourful and credible, the soundtrack and the widescreen camerawork exemplary, and the sense of a living, working, interrelating community is superbly realised. All this - and one of the most quietly subversive endings in American cinema.